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Advocates Call on TTC to Pause Wheel-Trans Changes, Saying Thousands Could Lose Access

Changes mean people with disabilities, seniors may just stay home, advocates say Muriel Draaisma, CBC News
Posted: Jun 17, 2021

Advocates are calling on the TTC to pause a program that requires users to reregister for Wheel-Trans, saying they fear the process could mean thousands of people with disabilities will lose access to the specialized service.

According to a report approved by the TTC board on Wednesday, the TTC plans to divert 50 per cent of Wheel-Trans users to the conventional TTC system for part of their trips by 2025. The conventional TTC system means buses, streetcars and subways. Wheel-Trans is TTC’s door-to-door service for people with mobility issues.

Adam Cohoon, a TTCriders accessibility committee member, told the board that people with disabilities are “not really ready” to begin using the conventional system under what is known as the Wheel-Trans Transformational Program.

If people with disabilities have to reregister for Wheel-Trans, they could be forced to take the conventional TTC for part of their trips, and that could mean they simply do not go out or go out much less, Cohoon said.

“I really think you guys have to rethink some of this mandatory screening because there are going to be people that actually fall through the cracks and are just going to end up having the same isolated lives that they already have had for 18 months,” Cohoon said at the virtual meeting.

Cohoon, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, said he is concerned about changes to Wheel-Trans because the TTC is not yet fully accessible and its subways lack blue accessibility buttons that users could press when they need to talk to customer service or transit control staff.

As well, he said he believes the TTC has fewer staff than in previous years to help people with disabilities on its conventional system. Cohoon has used Wheel-Trans for more than 20 years.

Adina Lebo, a member of the Toronto Seniors’ Forum, told the board that seniors will become isolated and confined to their homes if they are required to use the conventional system. The forum is a city-sponsored group of seniors who are Toronto residents.

Lebo said some seniors say the conventional TTC system is inaccessible and they are terrified for their safety.

“When I read that 50 per cent of Wheel-Trans users will be transitioned to the conventional TTC and forced onto buses, streetcars and subways that are not totally accessible at this point in time, it’s scary,” she said.

“I see 50 per cent of seniors choosing to stay at home and minimize their lives.”

TTC classifying Wheel-Trans users into 3 categories

According to the TTC, Wheel-Trans users have to reregister for the service to comply with the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). More than 7,000 people have reregistered since 2019. The TTC says re-registration is now being done on a voluntary basis.

Under that law, users are categorized into three classifications for eligibility:

  • Unconditional service, which is for customers who have a disability that always prevents them from using the TTC’s conventional system. These customers require door-to-door service for all of their trips.
  • Conditional service, which is for customers who have a disability that limits their ability to use the TTC’s conventional system “consistently.” These customers may be able to use conventional transit for all or part of a trip, but may also qualify for door-to-door service under specific circumstances, such as weather or travel to a remote location.
  • Temporary service, which is for customers who have a temporary disability that prevents them from using the TTC’s conventional system. Customers are provided Wheel-Trans for all or part of a trip for a defined period of time, such as following an injury or surgery.

Dwayne Geddes, head of Wheel-Trans at the TTC, said on Wednesday that it is a “misconception” that people who need the service will lose access to Wheel-Trans after having to re-register.

“I think some of the concern is that it’s believed that Wheel-Trans door-to-door service will disappear and will no longer be there for customers. That’s not the case. That’s a misconception. Door-to-door service will always be there for customers who need it,” Geddes said.

“If you require Wheel-Trans door-to-door service, it will be there guaranteed.”

The point of re-registration, he added, is that the TTC wants to ensure it has the right eligibility classification for its Wheel-Trans users.

Geddes said the TTC is not prepared to pause the program.

“We don’t have information that says the program isn’t working. In fact, the information we have is pointing to the opposite, that it is working,” he said. “We are committed to ensure that we provide a transit system that is fair and equitable for all customers.”

TTC say program introduced in part to sustain Wheel-Trans

In his report to the board, Geddes said the Wheel-Trans Transformational Program, which started in 2016, was an attempt to address legislative changes and an attempt to modernize and sustain the service. An expansion of eligibility under the law meant increasing demand, he said.

In an interview later, he said: “The whole plan of the program is to introduce a fully accessible conventional service, which means a service that anybody can use. It’s equitable for all.”

Geddes said the TTC was long known for having buses with stairs, streetcars with stairs, subways that had no elevators or escalators that didn’t work, but the transit agency has “turned a corner.” It has upgraded its stations and it is making its streetcars low floor, its buses and trains accessible, he said.

“Now that we’ve made the system more accessible, it’s almost like a reintroduction to the TTC for those with disabilities or mobility impairments,” he said.

“It’s basically saying, here’s our family of services that is now fully accessible and we want to encourage you to take it, if you can take it. I think the key point here is, if you can, if you’re comfortable taking it, if you can take it, we want you to take it,” he added.

“With this program, it really promotes and ensures that we are providing our customers with equity, dignity, spontaneity, fairness and freedom of travel.”

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